MixedTor.comThe Scholomance is where the entire novel takes place. It makes for an appropriately claustrophobic, constantly tense ambience, but it also means that a great deal of exposition is required to tell us about the outside world—what it is, why it needs the Scholomance, who set the school up and how it works. El tells us a great deal of this, quite often and with her trademark charm (read: unrelenting one dimensional snark) ... In fact, there are too many info dumps in general and while they may be amusing, this is not enough to not notice the masses of exposition. El is prickly, angry and sarcastic, and it’s not always clear why she needs to be quite so dramatic in her disdain for everyone around her, especially since she needs to form an alliance to get out alive, but without taking out half her classmates in a show of power. Sure, she’s developed this bad attitude as a result never being liked, but she does very little to help her cause, even if her cause is just to survive. What really brings El to life though, is when she does eventually let her guard down, and start to form friendships ... What’s odd is how we are told where each character is from, and what language they speak. It feels a bit forced, because most of them do not seem to have any other defining characteristics...What Novik’s intent with this was, is unclear, because it mainly seems like a way to check off what appears to be a diversity requirement in contemporary fiction ... may be making a commentary on predetermined societal class structures, but seems less intent on getting things right, then on being entertaining in an almost trendy way. Novik’s caustic and rebellious young protagonist is sure to appeal to a great many readers, though just as many will be thrown off by both her and the ‘soft diversity’ approach to what is vastly different from Novik’s last two books.
RaveTor.comThe narrative perspectives alternate between Cole, Miles, and Billie, helping to make the novel’s plot propulsive and deceptively simple, albeit stressful and frightening, made much more complicated by Miles’ own burgeoning puberty and all the complicated emotions that come alongside. Ultimately, this is a story about a single mother and her child trying to find a safe space in which to just be. A space in which they can develop their relationship, as Miles grows and finds out who is he, other than a survivor of a global pandemic, other than a bearer of sperm. It is sweet and poignant, but also fierce: what else do we expect from a mother’s love? ... a perfect example of when speculative fiction is so fiercely intelligent and logical that it is prescient – call it life imitating art if you will—the book was written before the current Covid-19 pandemic—but there are just too too many uncanny coincidences in both the main narrative, and the mise en scene for one not to admire Beukes’ ability to predict a future that so much of is now reality ... Writers all over the world may be scrabbling to get the next big pandemic book written this year, but Beukes is ahead of her time. And it’s no surprise at all.
Kiran Millwood Hargrave
RaveTor.comThe Mercies is a beautifully written, disturbing and stressful read. The sheer powerlessness of women in the face of abusive male authority is frightening, especially when we see how they have picked up their lives post-men and carried on, filling in all the traditionally male roles left behind, making sure none of them starves or freezes. We see them pull the men’s bodies from the freezing sea, store the bodies until the earth can be dug into, bury their men, and choose to carry on living as best they can. And yet, with the arrival of one man who has been given power over them, they are no longer able to live as they were. Of course, regardless of this story being actual historical fact, it is easy to draw modern day parallels, which just makes the sparse, taut narrative so much more suffocating.
RaveTor.com... this story holds much more humour and much more hope than its predecessor. It is also wise—Atwood is, after all, much older and wiser now than she was 35 years ago ... clever and astute and funny and tender. It is defiantly feminist. It tells you that ultimately a true sisterhood is all that matters, all that can be counted on to save the world ... an exploration of [Aunt Lydia\'s] character and history in The Testaments is both intriguing and welcome...Aunt Lydia in The Testaments is a fascinating, complicated and intriguing woman, and if there’s one thing Atwood does well, it’s giving her readers a new perspective on an old idea ... The Handmaid’s Tale was about oppressive regimes, crimes against women and patriarchal sexual economics of women’s bodies in a claustrophobic theocracy. The Testaments furthers those elements without repetition and without bludgeoning readers with moralistic pedantic diatribes. Atwood is sharp and deft in her writing—she maintains her stance on the subjugation of women, on the importance of female bonds and on the sheer determination and intelligence of women to challenge what seems like an airtight hierarchy without ever repeating the patterns or even motifs of The Handmaid’s Tale. Gilead may have been created 35 years ago and has not changed in essence, but Atwood adds new elements to it now, just enough to give her plot room to grow; just enough for her characters to figure out who they are, what they want and how far they’ll go to make their world change. There are nods to aspects of The Handmaid’s Tale here, but Atwood has moved on from there, regardless of the recent resurgence in interest in the book following the TV show’s popularity.
MixedTor.comHeavy with symbolism, loaded with metaphor and drowned in backstories for many characters (who do hold their own, so that helps), the plot of the novel is fairly obtuse for the first 100 pages or so, beautiful though it may be ... there are times it does indeed take some searching to find the plot ... Unfortunately the gorgeous little details can feel a bit precious at times. Character’s unique cocktails, their cutesy little quirks of bunny ears, edible stories, and the constant cats wandering through the narrative can be a little twee at times because while they are all lovely details to the mis en scene, they’re not really moving anything forward in terms of plot ... often reads like a high-end goth-hipster pastiche, which can obviously be quite divisive ... a love story, an epic love letter to the art of storytelling and to the power of stories. It’s a complex ode to unfamiliar mythic narratives that spills out in many directions ... Towards the end the threads come together beautifully so, with all the rising emotion and hope and grandeur a reader could want.
PositiveTor.com...[a] sharp, savvy second novel ... From an entirely scientific perspective (and also an editorial one), Booth isn’t quite able to make Cutis a believable disease. As horrifying as it is, it does require a great deal of suspension of disbelief ... Sealed is constantly stressful, terrifyingly believable most of the time, and horrific in many ways. There’s a feeling of impending doom from the very start ... It’s no spoiler to say that Sealed peaks with one of the most visceral, intense, and raw childbirth scenes you’ll encounter in a long time. This is an astute, worrying little novel, heavy with mood and thick with fears of the future of our planet, our bodies, our babies. And rightfully so.
PositiveTorThough New Suns is simply presented as an anthology of short fiction by people of colour, without any over arching theme, a great many of the stories in the collection focus on what it means to be the other—or become the other. But of course they do. This comes as no surprise, though some readers may be slightly disappointed when many of the stories don’t quite push at this enough, holding back just that little bit that stops from deeper exploration of their narrative. For some, it is that the short story format isn’t quite long enough to explore what they’re thinking (and so some of the stories come across as excerpts, which isn’t necessarily a negative aspect). For some it’s just a matter of undeveloped skill at addressing heavier, more complicated themes in equally complicated settings. Regardless, New Suns is an earnest compilation of voices from many ethnicities and backgrounds, making it a nice little package for those looking to read the narratives of writers exploring their experiences as people of colour, and as marginalised people .
PositiveTor.comWhile Winterson is sensitive in handling the more complex parts of Frankissstein, she makes sure to stay away from the didactic by use of humour, and satire ... a clever, wicked—even gothic!—very contemporary story about what it means to be human ... a smart, funny look at the state of AI right now, and where it could easily be headed. It’s also a thoughtful exploration of what Mary Shelley’s life as a writer must’ve been like.
S. A. Chakraborty
MixedTor.com\"Unlike the first book though, The Kingdom of Copper doesn’t read quite as smoothly ... Can you write deftly about a culture that you have adopted? Of course you can. Can you own it the way someone born into it can? I remain uncertain, and Chakraborty has not convinced me just yet, as much as she has indeed done all of the right things ... I can’t help but feel that this narrative just plays a little too much to the gallery, and into the cliché of an exotic Eastern fantasy, to make it palatable for an audience looking to diversify their fantasy reading repertoire ... if you’re coming from a place where classic djinns of flame and fury are a novel, unique, and exotic element in fantasy, The Kingdom of Copper is highly enjoyable. If you’re coming from a place where djinns are as common as the mundane mangoes and pomegranates and persimmons sold on a cart... you’re not going to be quite so entertained. This is a story for strangers in a strange land, but not every reader will find the land strange.\
PositiveTor.com\"A lot of Black Leopard, Red Wolf is gloriously rich, beautiful writing: visceral and muscular. James flexes often, and it’s always easy to appreciate, by the eye on the page and by the ear if you read out loud ... Some of Black Leopard, Red Wolf is outright frightening. It’s bloody and gory and vicious ... The fact that the narrative is this intense for over 600 pages is what gets overwhelming...\
PositiveTor.comWhile the story of Rumplestilskin is indeed used as a basic premise, Novik unweaves the original story, using threads of it to inspire different characters ... Novik employs multiple narrative voices in Spinning Silver, a number of perspectives making up this deftly woven and highly immersive fairy tale, with all threads connecting eventually in a satisfying way.
M. R. Carey
Positivetor.com\"All four [central characters] are unique identities, all four share traumas and overlapping lives through time and space—or do they? Are they each simply an aspect of the others’ own personality, subconscious? One an id to the other’s ego? Carey is good at making his readers question this, with plenty of well timed reveals adding to the constant tension in this twisty yet controlled narrative ... But this isn’t just a thriller—it’s also a sensitive and smart commentary on domestic abuse and it’s traumatic aftermath ... Carey is clever, and so he leaves the answers to his readers.\
PositiveTor.comThere have recently been a couple of books about Ancient Greek history written from a female point of view—Madeline Miller’s Circe, and now Barker’s The Silence of the Girls ... This is as much The Iliad from a female lens as it is a story reminding us of the patriarchal nature of all of history—it isn’t just written by the conquerers, it is written by men. But Barker is adamant that this must change.
S. A. Chakraborty
PositiveTorThe City of Brass is a well paced, entertaining and solidly researched (but never boring) historical fantasy that shifts the centre away from western folklore, with a strong denouement and a craftily set up epilogue that should segue well into the next installment of the trilogy. To most (western?) readers whose only experience of the djinn is Disney, The City of Brass is going to be a lush, entertaining fable inspired by Middle Eastern and Islamic folklore that has just enough familiar elements to not be considering worrying alien, and yet is exotic enough to thrill and entice and tick off diversity boxes in the right way. Within the dynamics of the various djinn tribes, though, are nestled valid socioeconomic politics for those who wish to read a little further past the surface of the narrative.
RaveTorBeukes isn’t interested in building up suspense leading to grand reveal of who the killer really is. Part of the horror here is knowing who it is, of feeling their madness firsthand … There is...a definite, defiant kink in the weave of this narrative that tells you it isn’t the average sort of psycho-killer thriller. Broken Monsters is also part police-procedural, the multi-POV narrative including that of Detective Gabi Versado, a smart, dedicated Detroit cop who thinks she’s seen everything until she discovers a horrific body that’s both a boy and a deer, somehow grafted grotesquely together … Beukes’ ability to be astutely, bang-on-target contemporary is astounding. It’s not just that she points out that modern life is strange, with our dependencies on the internet for all sorts of validation, but that she’s willing to explore so many facets of it so fast and so cleverly.
PositiveTorThe Devourers asks complicated questions about what it mans to be human. To desire and create, to have control over our bestial selves ... Das’ language can be stunning. It is lush, rich with imagery and poetic beauty. The visceral blood lust of the demons, their monstrousness, their sheer physical power and appeal is incredibly evocative throughout the novel ... The Devourers is beautiful. It is brutal. It is violent and vicious and deeply unsettling for a number of reasons. But it is also showcases Das’ incredible prowess with language and rhythm, and his ability to weave folklore and ancient legend with modern day loneliness.